Ask anyone if they have a nickname and chances are they’ve got one. Or had one. At the very least one nickname at some stage in life. Sometimes they are fleeting. Only applicable for a phase in your life, whereas others go the distance and live with you right to the end. Many people have had more than one nickname. I fall firmly into the latter category, and I feel like my ‘number’ is above average.
When I think about a nickname, I’m not counting someone being called by their surname. That’s still a real part of your actual name. I’m thinking more unconventional, the kind of names that come out of left field. The ones that happen because of an incident, or betray no immediately obvious hallmarks of their origin.
What is it about a person that lends to them getting called different things and quite often different names by different people? I also fall into that subcategory. I have had a lot of names that were often just used by one person. I learned quickly in high school that I had to keep my ears open because it was never a straightforward ‘Allison’ that anyone used to address me by. Actually, thinking about that for a second, hardly anyone calls me by my full first name. That’s a rarity.
The earliest one I recall was Star Wars related (besides the straightforward Al to distinguish me from my little sister Val which rolled nicely off the tongue of my father; just being Al & Val when he needed our attention). There was only room for one female lead in that game when I was five and I got the role of Chewbacca while Susan Ravazzolo got to be Leia with her long, super shiny hair and ability to achieve side buns. I’m not bitter, I became Chewy and that’s pretty cool. Not everyone can claim to be a Wookie.
In grade school I had teachers refer to me as ‘Cruiser’ when announcing test results and handing back papers along with shouting out my score. [EDIT: I was also called Orv as in Orville Redenbacher of popcorn fame because I had short blond wavy hair and glasses by the most popular boy twins in town because we rode the same bus route to school. To this day they still call me Orv if I run into them back home on visits!]
I was also the recipient of the unfortunate nickname ‘Circle Square’ that led to many an emotionally charged diary entry because it was based on the fact that I was allegedly ‘square’ and hadn’t kissed a boy. That name implied that you were a nerd because it came from a Christian kids show set on The Circle Square Ranch, where pious teens would preach the gospel and everyone was a goody-two-shoes. That was the only really hurtful one. The one that stung me. Like most preteens negotiating puberty you get saddled with something that scars you for life if you let it. I can joke about that one now, but it was a source of endless distress at the time. It was thrown around intentionally (all day, every day) to pick on me and the last thing any young girl wants is to be the butt of jokes by boys.
My best friends parents Moe and Jeanne used to (and still do) call me Allie. To this day they are one of the few people I permit to call me that. I’m not sure why Allie never took off, it seems a natural choice. I bristle if someone I’ve just met calls me Allie though. I think to myself, you barely know me? Only certain people in my life can call me that and expect a favourable reaction. They know who they are.
I probably peaked in high school though. There was Big Al, off the back of Happy Days. Explaining that name to anyone now usually results in people wondering if I was an overweight teen, which I wasn’t. It was just something that stuck, but not because I was big in size! Then there was that 80’s tv show A.L.F., so I got Alf a lot back then. When the show did a big reveal of A.L.F.’s real name as Gordon Chumway, I then graduated to Gord for short. The father of my friend Jo-Anne to this day refers to me as Gord because Jo-Anne was a big adopter of that one, and only referred to me as Gord in her home. I’m not sure Mr.Robinson even knows my real name.
I had Norm from classmate Myles, and I can’t even remember why that became my given name for him. A departed friend used to call me Kermit and Princess for reasons I’ll never understand.
In chemistry class I was designated the chemical name 1,2-dichlorosodioallibobanate (it was even written in my yearbook, thanks Corey), a riff on Ali Baba which was yet another one. Another student in our high school locker hallway called me Spence, because it alluded to the Spence Diamonds superstore. I had started doing weight training and he used to tease me saying I could crush a lump of coal with my forearms and make a diamond.
In my university years, there was less development in the nickname department. I got labelled Hardcore because I followed in my parents footsteps with their penchant for dark rum while everyone else had vodka or gin. Big Al was still in circulation and is the one that never got away. Sometimes it was just ‘Big’, Notorious B.I.G, or Ali Baba-chia (nod to Ryan McLean).
Once I moved to London in the UK I met my future husband. Marco initially called me Fozzy (what is WITH the muppets????) because of a faux fur golden coat I had that resembled the colour of the bear. Later as we dated, he decided to call me ‘Whippet’ (stick with me on this one) because he had read a novel that was told from the perspective of a dog who narrated the stories about its owner. The dogs owner had a girlfriend who was super skinny so the dog referred this woman as ‘whippet’.
To be fair, the first time Marco called me this I blanched. “You really want to call me a skinny dog breed?”, I shook my head. He didn’t know what a whippet was, he just liked the word. It stuck and has many of its own alternate versions including the popular Whipper, Whippy, and Whippeta. It often causes confusion when someone doesn’t know the backstory, but yes, I respond to these names and have done since 1998.
My most recent nickname came from my previous job, where the former owner Ted used to call me AC after a second North American Alison joined the company. She had one ‘L’, and I had two. After that I was pretty much AC for another 12 years in that office.
I can’t say that new nicknames have been as frequent these days. My bestie here in London sometimes calls me Canada. That’s about it recently although I’m certain I’ve missed some corkers while reflecting on the subject.
If history is any indicator, then the one thing I’m pretty sure of is that my ever expanding list of nicknames isn’t over. And it will probably be many, many years before I acquire my last one.